Friday, April 3, 2009

Cat Mother and the All-Night Newsboys (music)

(1969-1973)
Personnel:
  Larry Parker (guitar/vocals), Roy Michaels (bass), Bob Smith (Keyboards), Michael Equine (drums).  (Later added Paul Johnson (guitar), Jan Ungar (bass, violin)).
All Music Guide

Cat Mother and the All-Night Newsboys might make the list of one-hit wonders, and most histories concentrated on that hit.  But if you listened to FM radio in the early 70s, it was another one of their songs that you'll remember with a smile on your face.

The group started in New York, playing clubs and signing a record contract. They got their friend Jimi Hendrix to produce their first album, which gave them their hit "Good Old Rock 'n Roll."  Hendrix even hired them as his opening act.

"Good Old Rock 'n Roll" was about the rock that the band grew up with, and actually used quotes from several well-know songs, more of a medley than a song. There was a verse in the beginning, which then segued into "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Long Tall Sally," "Chantilly Lace," "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On," "Blue Suede Shoes," and "Party Doll" before returning to the original tune.

 

This was actually quite new to many listeners of the time.  If you missed the 50s, you didn't often have the chance to hear these songs (oldies stations were just getting started). I'm sure many of those who bought imagethe song had never heard the originals before.

But the hit only went to #25 and there was turmoil and turnover.  Charlie Chin left the band, and was replaced by Jan Unger and Paul Johnson, who recorded their second album, Albion Doo-wha.

It didn't do well, but it spawned one of the great FM radio tracks: Jay Unger's "Strike a Match and Light Another":

In the first days of this country when the buffalo roamed the land,
All the saddle tramps and cowboys used to roll their own by hand.
Well they'd swing up to the saddle on their ass or on their horse
And recite a little ditty that went like this of course.

When your feet are in the stirrups and your ass is on the ground
Cause the grass that you's been eating is the finest stuff around
Well let us not remember boys and let us not forget
Strike a match and light another marijuana cigarette.

Yes, a song about the joys of marijuana.  This was sung to a cheerful tune that was just plain goofy, with some non sequitur lyrics and a great deal of wit. It was really impossible to listen to without smiling, even if you weren't stoned.  And the free use of the word "ass" was also a plus in a time when it was banned from the radio.  Perfectly legitimate here, of course, since it was talking about a donkey.  (Right.)

But the song wasn't enough.  The group struggled on for a few more years before calling it quits and have pretty much been forgotten.

Except for one.  Jay Unger went off on his own tangent writing folk-influenced music. One piece, "Ashokan Farewell" was picked by filmmaker Ken Burns to be included in his epic documentary, The Civil War.  It was played throughout the miniseries (25 times, according to Wikipedia) and became the theme song for it.  Many people even think it was an actual Civil War era song.  I must say I was delighted to realize the song was by the same person who wrote "Strike a match."

The group's albums are hard to find, of course.  I'm not sure if they even made it to CD.  But they were a tiny but memorable piece of rock history.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

most serendipitous that i would be searchin for this less than 2 weeks after your post. good to hear the tunes... though still disremember which one it was i loved so much through the smoke and romilar haze of 40 years long gone. mebbe marie. one of these days going to buy that turn table so i can play the stuff proper. thanks.

Nev (from Liverpool) said...

I have all four Cat Mother albums (all vinyl) and came to the band through "Strike a match". Being from the UK, I was never aware of the "hit record". Fortunately, my favourite Dj, John Peel, frequently played this track on the BBC as well as others from the album Albion Doo-Wah. I am now in the process of converting the vinyl to MP3 so that I can again listen to all of their music on my Zen. It's about time the rest of the world were able to get this stuff either on CD or download. Pull your finger out record company!

Anonymous said...

Nev

Share them! Especially Cat Mother

jmitshell said...

It was the great band, sadly forgoten.You can find the records on Ebay. The bands like this is the reason why we love american music. Regards from Russia, vic

jmitshell said...

PS.I would like to have whole lyric of this song to play it with my friends,thanks folks.

Anonymous said...

Hi to jmitshell. If you are looking for the words to 'Strike a Match', I can help you. lorenzolarue lkellogg@mcn.org

Anonymous said...

Just realized that the words are in the article....what's that boy been smo......kin!

Karridine said...

Strike a Match... well, Roy Michaels and I struck it off a couple times, and got the people dancing to our jammin'...

I've got a picture of us, me on rhythm guitar doing lead vocals and Roy on bass, essentially playing lead...

Ah, but that was before he shuffled off his mortal coil, and went to live with the Lord...

Anonymous said...

Hey there Kerridine,
didn't think Roy played bass after picking up the guitar unless it was for one of his own recording. You can do a search for Loy Bones on you tube and see him performing Strike a match if your interested.

KayoFrisco said...

I remember Cat Mother as a club band in the Bay Area during the early '70s. They played at my high school(Montgomery: Santa Rosa, CA) and I heard "Strike a Match" there in the fall of '72. Can you imagine such an obvious dope song played at a high school dance today?
I think they were a regular at The Inn of the Beginning, The Lion's Share, Uncle Sam's and other North Bay clubs.

For love of food and wine said...

Cat Mother played all the time around Mendocino. I grew up there. They used to play at Toad Hall, the Casper Inn, and even at one of our High School dances. I think it was a Homecoming Dance. They were fun and yes we were usually stoned, in fact almost always. A different time, a more simple time, a slower time then now. Cat Mother should be remembered. If I remember correctly they had a song called Heartbreaker also. But I have to go back and check. I do remember that the drummer was dating one of the girls in my high school junior calls. 1974... Still enjoying "striking a match" 40 years later.

Anonymous said...

Cat Mother's 1st and 2nd albums have been recently reissued on CD by Real Gone Music dot com. You can order them direct from the company website or through Amazon.com. The 2nd album Albion Doo-Wah has only been out in the corrected remastered CD for a week or so. Sounds great!

Steve Howe said...

thanks Anonymous. Will be going to the site and getting both albums on CD. Have the vinyl of Albion Doo-Wah but would love to have them on CD. I saw them more times then I can remember up in Mendocino. Thanks again for finding out about the release.

Gary Foss said...

Love the music,only have the Albion album though,but working to get the rest! I went with a nice women once who claimed to be the inspiration for the bands name,her name was Catherine and said she once lived in a commune in Elk, CA. in the late 60's and turned me on to this band.I don't know if it was for real or just a hopeful haze,but does anyone remember her?

For love of food and wine said...

Gary - I believe that Cat Mother were a New York band first. That is where they got their start, so Catherine may have been telling a bit of a tale. There were communes in Elk and off Navarro Ridge and a few other ridges. I am sure she had a good time and having listened to Cat Mother live many times around Mendocino, I can honestly say that most people at Cat Mother show have a very good time.

For love of food and wine said...

Gary - I believe that Cat Mother were a New York band first. That is where they got their start, so Catherine may have been telling a bit of a tale. There were communes in Elk and off Navarro Ridge and a few other ridges. I am sure she had a good time and having listened to Cat Mother live many times around Mendocino, I can honestly say that most people at Cat Mother show have a very good time.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone out there remember the song off their 1st album, Dance the night away ? That was my favorite song.P.S.,I didn't know they had 4 albums out,thanks for the info man !

Anonymous said...

Does anyone remember the song off their 1st album,Dance the Night Away ? One of my favorite songs off that album.P.S.,I didn't know they had 4 albums.Thanks for the info. Peace !

131488WOLF131488 said...

Redwood Shuffle!